Washington is adopting the state’s first set of standards for teaching computer science in public schools. By adopting computer science standards, Washington is addressing the skills gap in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Right now, only one in 10 schools in the state offers classes that teach students more advanced computer skills that deal with problem solving, such as robotics, creating websites and writing software. Computer instruction has been considered an “extra” in schools, with funding coming from local levies.
“The kids largely who get access to this are kids that have it in their lives, said Andy Shouse, an education researcher and advocate at Washington STEM, a non-profit. "You know, my mom’s a software engineer therefore I have access. But we need to get really serious about the equity issue because it’s more than feeding people into high-end IT careers, it’s about giving people access to the world in the way it’s moving,” Shouse said.
"There are opportunities for jobs and careers in computer science, there's no doubt about it," said Randy Dorn, outgoing state superintendent of public instruction.
"The more we can expose kids to, the more there's an interest, and whether they like it or don't like it, and make a choice if that's a career opportunity they want to take," he said.
According to Dorn, the new standards will require heavy investments from the state for things like 3-D printers, computers and controllers. Another challenge is finding enough qualified teachers who might be willing to walk away from more lucrative jobs in the tech sector.
Governor Jay Inslee's goal is to have these classes available in every public school in the next four years. But even as educators begin work to integrate computer science into the classroom, the state Legislature is still struggling to come up with a plan to fully fund education.